“We are here and around the world for a deep democracy that says we will not be quiet, we will not be controlled, we will work for a world in which all countries are connected. God may be in the details, but the goddess is in connections. We are at one with each other, we are looking at each other, not up. No more asking daddy.
We are linked. We are not ranked. And this is a day that will change us forever because we are together. Each of us individually and collectively will never be the same again. When we elect a possible president we too often go home. We've elected an impossible president, we're never going home. We're staying together. And we're taking over. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Make sure you introduce yourselves to each other and decide what we're gonna do tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and we're never turning back." - Unknown
Women continually drive for more freedom and consequently have acquired more freedom. In the last thirty years, women have made incredible progress.
Feminism, a belief in the political, economic and cultural equality of women, has roots in the earliest eras of human civilization. Fifty years ago, the Women’s Strike for Equality brought tens of thousands of women out onto the street in more than ninety cities. These events represent a high-water mark for women’s liberation, a hugely influential but short-lived current within feminism.
Women’s liberation took shape in small groups all over the country starting around 1967. One of its key insights was articulated in the catchphrase “the personal is political.” Many women of all races threw themselves into the work of understanding and transforming basic facts about their own lives, as well as legal and institutional frameworks.
In many places that energy shifted very quickly from naming the problem to doing something about it. The Women's Liberation Movement (WLM) was a political alignment of women and feminist intellectualism that emerged in the late 1960s and continued into the 1980s primarily in the industrialized nations of the Western world, which effected great change (political, intellectual, cultural) throughout the world - because changes come from women speaking up. The protest comprised of women of racially- and culturally-diverse backgrounds who proposed that economic, psychological, and social freedom were necessary for women to progress from being second-class citizens in their societies.
The WLM coincided with and is recognized as part of the Second Wave of Feminism. The First Wave of Feminism of the 19th and early 20th century focused on women's legal rights, especially the right to vote. The Second Wave of Feminism touched on every area of women's experiences including politics, work, work, family and sexuality. These organized activism by and on behalf of women continued through the third and fourth wave of feminism from the mid-1990s and the early 2010s, respectively.
In the aftermath of World War II the lives of women in developed countries changed dramatically. Household technology eased the burdens of homemaking, life expectancies increased dramatically, and the growth of the service sector opened up thousands of jobs not dependent on physical strength. Despite these socioeconomic transformations, cultural attitudes (especially concerning women’s work) and legal precedents still reinforced sexual inequalities. Women who had been told that they had it all—nice houses, lovely children, responsible husbands—were deadened by domesticity and they were too socially conditioned to recognize their own desperation.
Initially, women joined with government leaders and union representatives who had been lobbying the federal government for equal pay and for protection against employment discrimination. By June 1966 they had concluded that polite requests were insufficient. They would need their own national pressure group - which this the National Organization of Women (NOW) was born.
The aim of the WLM was equality for women and general human rights for all people. If you voted during your elections, or you had the opportunity to lead in your workplace - its thanks to women like this (pictured top). The WLM questioned the cultural and legal validity of patriarchy and the practical validity of the social and sexual hierarchies used to control and limit the legal and physical independence of women in society. Women's liberationists proposed that sexism - legalized formal and informal sex-based discrimination predicated on the existence of the social construction of gender - was the principal political problem with the power dynamics of their societies.
The organization was not an instant success. By the end of its second year, NOW had just 1,035 members and was racked by ideological divisions. When the group tried to write a Bill of Rights for Women, it found consensus on six measures essential to ensuring women’s equality: enforcement of laws banning employment discrimination; maternity leave rights; child-care centers that could enable mothers to work; tax deductions for child-care expenses; equal and unsegregated education; and equal job-training opportunities for poor women. Two other measures stirred enormous controversy: one demanded immediate passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the US Constitution (to ensure equality of rights, regardless of sex), and the other demanded greater access to contraceptives and abortion. When NOW threw its support behind passage of the ERA, the United Auto Workers Union - which had been providing NOW with office space—withdrew its support, because the ERA would effectively prohibit protective labor legislation for women. When some NOW members called for repeal of all abortion laws, other members left the fledgling organization, convinced that this latest action would undermine their struggles against economic and legal discrimination.
NOW’s membership was also siphoned off from the left. Impatient with a top-heavy traditional organization, activists in New York City, where half of NOW’s membership was located, walked out. Over the next two years, as NOW struggled to establish itself as a national organization, more radical women’s groups were formed by female antiwar, civil rights, and leftist activists who had grown disgusted by the New Lefts refusal to address women’s concerns. Ironically, sexist attitudes had pervaded 1960s radical politics, with some women being exploited or treated unequally within those movements. In 1964, for example, when a woman’s resolution was brought up at a Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC) conference, Stokely Carmichael flippantly cut off all debate: “The only position for women in SNCC is prone.”
While NOW focused on issues of women’s rights, the more radical groups pursued the broader themes of women’s liberation. Although they lacked the kind of coherent While NOW focused on issues of women’s rights, the more radical groups pursued the broader themes of women’s liberation. Although they lacked the kind of coherent national structure NOW had formed, liberation groups sprang up in Chicago, Toronto, Seattle, Detroit, and elsewhere. Suddenly, the women’s liberation movement was everywhere—and nowhere. It had no officers, no mailing address, no printed agenda. What it did have was attitude. In September 1968 activists converged on Atlantic City, New York to protest the image of womanhood conveyed by the Miss. America Pageant. In February 1969 one of the most radical liberation groups, the Redstockings, published its principles as “The Bitch Manifesto.” Based in New York City, the Redstockings penned the movement’s first analysis of the politics of housework, held the first public speak-out on abortion, and helped to develop the concept of “consciousness-raising” groups—rap sessions to unravel how sexism might have colored their lives. The Redstockings also held speak-outs on rape to focus national attention on the problem of violence against women, including Domestic Violence.
Responding to these diverse interests, NOW called the Congress to Unite Women, which drew more than 500 feminists to New York City in November 1969. The meeting was meant to establish common ground between the radical and moderate wings of the women’s rights movement, but it was an impossible task. Well-dressed professionals convinced that women needed to reason with men could not unite with wild-haired radicals whose New Left experience had soured them on polite discourse with “the enemy.” NOW’s leadership seemed more comfortable lobbying politicians in Washington or corresponding with NASA about the exclusion of women from the astronaut program, while the young upstarts preferred disrupting legislative committee hearings. NOW leaders were looking for reform. The more radical women were plotting a revolution.
Despite such dissension in its leadership and ranks, the women’s rights movement achieved much in a short period of time. With the eventual backing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, women gained access to jobs in every corner of the U.S. economy, and employers with long histories of discrimination were required provide timetables for increasing the number of women in their workforces. Divorce laws were liberalized employers were barred from firing pregnant women; and women’s studies programs were created in colleges and universities. Record numbers of women ran for - and started winning - political office. In 1972 Congress passed Title IX of the Higher Education Act, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program receiving federal funds and thereby forced all-male schools to open their doors to women and athletic programs to sponsor and finance female sports teams. And as more women around the world joined the WLM, more countries delivered Women's Rights on a silver platter.
Women have not just recently begun to struggle against their suppression and exploitation. Women have fought in a million ways in their daily, private lives to survive and to overcome existing conditions. But we do not ignore what seem to be the 'petty' forms of female oppression, such as total identification with housework and sexuality as well as physical helplessness. Rather we understand that our oppression and suppression are institutionalized; that all women suffer the 'petty' forms of oppression and the Women's Liberation Movement still lives on, even in the 21st Century.
Article by Sophie Leota
Editor & Communications Coordinator